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#TGW: Race of a Lifetime

Oct. 28, 2017

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word –

THE FLATS — Alex Grady wasn’t going to be intimidated when he stepped to the line for the ACC Cross Country Championships Friday morning.

He won’t be thrown on Nov. 10 at the NCAA Tournament’s South Regionals, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or, should he/the Yellow Jackets qualify, at the NCAA Championships eight days after that.

Really, there’s no race of any kind that will knock the unflappable graduating senior from Covington, Ga., off his game. Not after the race he ran, and nearly won, in pursuit of “Mr. GT.”

Grady was one of five finalists in the campus-wide traditional competition. “Mr. GT” and “Ms. GT” are Georgia Tech equivalent of Homecoming King and Queen. It’s a nearly two-month audition that is open to the entire campus, requiring the ability to express love for and commitment to Georgia Tech in writing, then in an interview, then in a video format and, if you’ve survived all that, in an election to try to earn your peers’ vote.

It’s a grueling pursuit but one perfectly suited to a distance runner like Grady, an exemplary student-athlete and a spectacularly unselfish human being.

The journey moved him.

“Oh, my goodness, it was such an incredible honor,” he said. “Just to put things into perspective, it has been years since a student-athlete has even made it to the final position. To be considered at the top with some other incredible and amazing individuals, who have meant so much for this campus, for the community, it really puts perspective on all that I’ve accomplished and how I can be proud of all those things and how I can continue to thrive and give back and do everything that I can for my respective community.”

Grady had perspective for the nature of the competition, as, in addition to cross country, he runs the 3,000 meters for Georgia Tech track and field. In typical fashion, once he committed to running for “Mr. GT” — actually a race to which he was committed — Grady attacked it with the thoroughness, and a genuine heartfelt passion, as a literal running race.

The starting gun was fired for him at a Student-Ambassadors meeting in late September.

“When they opened up nominations, there was another student there, another senior. She asked, ‘Are you graduating?’ because there are certain criteria. You have to be a graduating senior, you have to be in good standing, there’s a GPA requirement as well,” he remembered. “I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ She immediately raised her hand and nominated me. That was really, really cool. I always thought that it would be really cool to be running for ‘Mr. GT.’ The fact that I was able to do it was really, really cool. Really, really awesome.”

While Grady was caught a little flat-footed by the nomination for “Mr. GT,” he hit the ground running to pursue it. That’s a good thing, as it is only open to the first 25 men and first 25 women to apply.

Grady filled out the application, got to the Student Center about 20 hours prior to its opening on the day the applications were accepted, then stood — and even slept — in line. Once he cleared that first hurdle, then came the essay portion of the contest.

“It was roughly a page long, essentially explaining what is something that I’ve learned over the course of my time here at Georgia Tech that I won’t forget,” he said. “Then, there was an interview. They essentially asked me questions about my involvement, about my experience. They whittled it down to 19 for I guess you could say the quarterfinals, if you will.”

With four years on the track and cross country teams, and his work around campus, with Student-Ambassadors, and the Student-Athlete Advisory Board, including serving as president, there was plenty to talk about and more than enough for him to advance.

Next was the video presentation, in which he created a 10-minute video with the basic theme “Why am I proud to be a Georgia Tech student and a member of the Georgia Tech community?” Grady broke his down into three parts.

“First I talked about the legacy at hand. Being a Georgia Tech student-athlete, I had to commend the Athletic Association for all it’s done, for all that it’s done in the past,” he said. “The Heisman (Trophy), the Bobby Dodd (Coach of the Year) Award and the Homer Rice Athletic Director of the Year Award, all of those awards that are given on an annual basis came from Georgia Tech. Every year these three people are remembered and they’re commemorated for all the things that they’ve done, not only for Georgia Tech but athletics across the nation. So I talked about legacy there.

“The next thing I was proud of was the family that I’ve created here my track and field and my cross country family,” he added. “They believed in me. They support me every day. They do everything that they can to ensure that I am at my very best. To be connected with such a close-knit group, but also such a diverse group, and a very powerful student group, I would not have the pleasure of knowing a lot of them if I wasn’t a student-athlete.”

He put on his kick and brought the video home with commitment to community.

“When I thought of community I thought of the opportunities. I broke it up into academics and athletics. I highlighted things like the Student-Technology Advantage and Materials Program, where they invested so much in me, which allowed me to grow and flourish and connect the dots from a business perspective,” he said. “Then I thought about athletics and the incredible people like (Athletics Director) Todd Stansbury, who really cares about the student-athlete experience, being an athlete and the honor of being the president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Board and having that opportunity to grow in that. Then I also touched on the alumni.

“Finally, I explained what it meant to me to even be nominated, that it was those around me inspired me to keep running, to campaign. I was really grateful for those around me that gave me this opportunity.”

Grady made the cut into the top 10, and then ran his campaign. The top five vote-getters would become finalists and take Grant Field at halftime of last Saturday’s Homecoming Game with Wake Forest.

Here’s where a little innovation went a long way, especially in the design of his campaign poster.

“I ran with what was around me, in my environment, in my surroundings,” Alex said. “Grady Hospital has a tagline saying, ‘I wouldn’t be here without Grady.’ I didn’t necessarily want to say that but I twisted that and said, ‘I wouldn’t vote for anyone but Grady.’ I had the same white background, it had my picture, instead of the red, of course, I had gold. I tried to use some of their branding and some of their marketing then I had a hashtag, where I had people who were influenced, affected, inspired by me, kind of explaining, ‘If it wasn’t for Grady I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.’ That was some of the major branding.”

About two weeks before Homecoming, the balloting was closed.

“There was no more campaigning, there were no more presentations, or interviews or anything to do,” he said. “It was just a matter of me soaking in the moment and taking it all in.”

Finally some relief!

Now he could get back to the pedestrian pursuits of wrapping up his degree Mechanical Engineering and training for ACC’s…not that either had ever actually gone away, or even let up.

“I definitely had time-management. I’m glad that I learned that skillset very early in my college career,” he said, with a laugh. “I made sure to communicate with some of my project teams, worked with them and front-loaded a lot of work that I needed to. I was very, very transparent with them and let them know what I was undertaking, what I was trying to accomplish, what I was doing. They were very, very supportive but I made sure that I did everything that I could to pull my weight and still do my part academically.

“Athletically, I wanted to make sure that I was focusing on the little things. I had to make sure I was still eating really healthy, that I was getting sleep, that I was recovering as I needed to after workouts, which I was able to do,” he added. “I’m really proud of myself there, especially with such a great opportunity at ACCs and South Region coming up. I’m not going to lie. I wanted it. I was really committed, I was dedicated. With that comes a little bit of resilience, for sure.”

That support system was quite valuable during the waiting, as the total score was tabulated.

“I’ll tell you what, to have a support system as strong as the one that I’ve felt the past few days has been absolutely incredible,” he said.

Trying to figure out the method to the scoring alone would requires patience and a support system.

“What they do is they take your essay and they take your interview that you did way back when and they multiply that by 10 percent,” Grady explained. “Then they take the presentation that you did and they multiply that by 50 percent. Then they take the number of votes that you gained and they multiply that by 40 percent. Then they add up all of those and give you a total score and the one with the highest score wins. I made it as a finalist and that was the end of the road for me.”

That end of the road wasn’t the end of the journey and not winning the title didn’t necessarily mean not being a winner.

“‘Mr. GT’ from last year (Andrew Perry), was with us through the first half of the game, before we got onto the field. He gave us some wise words and words of affirmation and encouragement and one thing that really stuck out to me,” he said. “‘You making it this far, you are already ‘Mr. GT.’ You are already ‘Ms. GT.’ That really put things into perspective. ‘The title, yeah, it’s pretty cool. But just making it this far is just an absolute incredible honor.

“To be on the field, to take my mom out on the field was an absolute honor. I’ll never forget it. I had shivers walking on the field. It almost felt like race day. It was just an incredible moment.”


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